Rebecca Colleen Christie, 28, who was convicted of homicide and child abandonment in November 2009, didn't ask U.S. District Judge Robert Brack for mercy, telling him in between tears how sorry she was.
"I'll never get to see her grown up ... That weighs on my heart. That was my little girl," Christie said slowly, with difficulty, her shoulders hunched, the chains on her wrists shaking. She went on: "Not seeing what she needed, I'll live with that for eternity. There's nothing more that I want than to have her back with me, but I can't have her back, and even now, I can't talk to my older daughter. It was my responsibility to take care of her and I failed her and I'm sorry."
Brack is expected to issue a judgment next week on whether Christie will spend 10 years, or 30 to life in prison. Christie's ex-husband, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Derek Wulf, who was charged with abuse of a child resulting in death, is pending trial.
Their child, 3 1/2-year-old Brandi Wulf, had gained just a pound and a half in the last year of her life and weighed 23 pounds when Christie called 911 to report her daughter was limp and unconscious Jan. 26, 2006.
Derek Wulf had left on temporary military duty nine days earlier, but had expressed reservations about his wife's ability to take care of their child; her older daughter had already been placed with Christie's parents.
From noon to 3 a.m. the month the little girl died, the computer showed "continuous activity" as her mother chatted online with friends from the online fantasy role-playing game. Less than an hour before Brandi Wulf was found dead, her ribs "prominent," her teeth appearing "black and decayed," her mother was online, doing just that, court documents state.
Wulf told an FBI agent he would regularly come home from work and find his daughter with her water glass empty, because his wife was busy "playing on the computer," according to court documents. There appeared to be so little to eat in the home - with its overflowing litter box and pervasive smell of cat urine - that the child would eat cat food, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. And in searching the home after the death, police found no PediaSure - something a doctor a year prior had prescribed the child take five times a day due to digestive problems and frequent diarrhea.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Barbara Mandel argued that Brandi Wulf had been given food, water and four servings of PediaSure for the two days before she died, but had been suffering from diarrhea (contradicted by fully formed stool found at autopsy in the girl's colon) which could have caused her sudden and fatal dehydration. And while the girl was "tired" and "irritable," her condition would "not necessarily be visible to a layperson."
"(Four medical experts) did say signs of dehydration and malnutrition would have been very visible for several days, to a reasonable observer," Judge Brack countered. "Mrs. Christie described a different child."
And when Mandel offered that the death was "one of those mysteries of medicine," Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Armijo countered, "Then why not take her to a doctor when she's sick?" and noted the girl hadn't seen a doctor for the last year of her life.
"Brandi was already malnourished and she simply wasn't given fluid to live," Armijo said, before bringing out pictures of the girl at Christmas, just a month before, and photos of her body after death, causing Christie to flinch away, keeping her eyes down until the exhibits were removed. Sudden and fatal dehydration doesn't make sense, Armijo said: "She (Christie) didn't want the jury to think that she withheld water from her daughter, and that's the only way it could have happened ... Brandi was in trouble for days before she died."
Mandel argued that wasn't so.
"When she (Christie) called 911, she said, 'She's looking different, she didn't look like she did before, she's looking small,'" and noted that the girl had been recently bathed, "and if she'd seen her in that condition, she would have done something."
Why didn't she see it? Perhaps Christie didn't want to acknowledge being addicted to World of Warcraft, Brack said, especially addicted to the point where she wasn't paying enough attention to her daughter.
Christie could be thinking, "If I tell them how many hours I was playing that game, it's going to support the idea I wasn't taking care of my child," Brack said.
No matter what the sentence, Mandel told the court, Christie - who has been kept from contact with her two other daughters - would be haunted by the death for the rest of her life.
"It's a horrible thing when a child dies, and she lives with that on a daily basis and will live with it her entire life," Mandel said, quoting the movie "I've Loved You So Long," about a mother who goes to prison for the death of her son. "She (the main character) said, 'I will be in prison forever,' ... and that is where I think Ms. Christie is, in her own prison."
Armijo rejected any implication that Christie was a victim, however, saying Christie "let Brandi disintegrate before her own eyes."
"The jury did find that the defendant killed her daughter, that Brandi died at the hands of her mother ... You just don't get a free pass for killing your own child, even if you have rehabilitated. You don't get a free pass for killing your child."
Ashley Meeks can be reached at (575) 541-5462.